You recently returned from your first field visit. What did you focus on?
We met with the local communities in three of our case study settlements - Aekefo, Ontong Java and Kukum Fishing Village - to assess their needs and scope possible engineering solutions.
Many of the original residents moved to these communities in the 1960s. While some of the growth of informal settlements since then is due to natural population growth, and the wider global trend of urbanisation, there’s also a cultural element.
The ‘Wantok’ system means extended family continue to move into Honiara from the ‘home island’ for employment, education or health care, so these communities continue to expand.
In terms of development needs, their biggest priorities are access to clean drinking water, sanitation, drainage, waste management, and flood protection.
As these settlements are unplanned and ‘organic’, this means there’s also big gap in data to inform planning and land management.
So as well as chemical, environmental, civil and humanitarian engineers, our team included experts in community profiling, geographic information systems, and land administration, who will be conducting surveys and potentially drone mapping to better understand the current extent and projected growth of the settlements.
How important is working directly with communities, engaging those affected in co-design and co-creation, in these kinds of projects?
A participatory approach is critical. This not only allows local people to be involved in the prioritisation of community needs but also to be involved in the co-design of resilience options, and even involved in the implementation of actions.
This promotes local ownership of actions and also contributes to long-term sustainability goals. Involving women in this empowerment process is important, given their roles in the community.